“The only thing wrong with immortality is that it tends to go on forever”- Herb Caen
If you are a huge fan of the Chinese Mainland Bromance “The Lost Tomb Series”, you will realize that the entire franchise is based on Emperor Qin’s insatiable quest for Immortality. Director Lee Yong Zoo has scripted this sci-fi movie based on the legend of Seobok, an ancient Chinese alchemist and explorer tasked by Qin to find the elixir of life. While this fantastical universe has all the markings of a successful movie franchise, the film falls short on the high expectations because of its loosely interpreted script and the main lead’s underdeveloped relationship. You will be able to enjoy this movie, only if you can walk past the glaring inadequacies that are definitely obvious. The presence of A-listers Gong Yoo and Park Bo Gum is the only saving grace, as they shoulder the burden of spearheading this ambitious project into the right direction. Given that this film is Director Lee Yong Zoo’s first attempt at directing a sci-fi action (let alone a bromance), discrepancies are bound to happen. Despite the fervent shortcomings, I did enjoy the philosophical dialogues between the main characters as they argued about “the need to gain immortality and if it is essential for survival”. Without further ado, let’s review this new release as we dig deeper into its secrets!
Min Ki Heon
Gong Yoo plays former intelligence agent Min Ki Heon who for the final mission of his life, is tasked with ensuring the safe transportation of mankind’s first human clone, Seobok.
Park Bo Gum portrays the titular lead Seobok, a human clone who is the target of many forces seeking to steal the technology for themselves.
Jo Woo Jin plays the role of Director Ahn, an intelligent agent who wants to destroy Seobok’s existence.
Im Se Eun
Jang Young Nam plays the lead researcher Im Se Eun. She is the one who created Seobok and has closely monitored his growth. She is also Seobok’s biological Mother.
Shin Hak Seon
Park Byung Eun portrays the role of Shin Hak Seon, the CEO of Seoin Group and Seobok’s owner.
This film is a rather bold yet modern reinterpretation of the story of Xu Fu (pronounced ‘Seo Bok’ in Korean) from the Qin Dynasty who was sent by Emperor Qin Shi Huang to find the elixir of life. Former intelligence agent Min Ki Heon encounters the first-ever genetically mutated human clone, Seobok, who holds the secret to eternal life. For his final mission, Ki Heon is tasked to accompany Seobok while he is being relocated to a safer location. However on the way, they are attacked by nefarious external forces who are desperate for Seobok’s technology. While on the run, the main leads get closer as they rediscover the true purpose of life and death while facing the jarring reality related to the ancient legend of immortality.
The Anti Hero With A Disturbing Past
The film rather focuses on the complexities of human nature and as such, superstar Gong Yoo plays the utterly flawed ex- intelligence agent Min Ki Heon. Make no mistake, because Ki Heon is unlike most agents who would sacrifice their own lives for their country’s wellbeing. Suffering from Glioblastoma (brain tumor), Ki Meon has frequent migraines as well as a severe case of massive self guilt. So, he is apprehensive when his former Boss tasks him with the transport of a “Classified Project”, that turns out to be a human clone. Already on the edge due to his impending death scare, Ki Heon accepts the deal in return for the promise of a live saving clinical trial. However, while most people treat Seobok like a test subject, Ki Heon slowly grows to like and appreciate the human clone. Gong Yoo is used to playing conventionally strong characters (Coffee Prince, Goblin). As such watching him portray a cowardly individual with excessive emotional baggage was an entirely bewildering experience. Obviously, hearing him swear was even more baffling. However, Gong Yoo has done an impressive job betraying Min Ki Heon’s vulnerabilities which tie this somewhat abysmal script into something more substantial. You understand the character’s apparent fears when he replies to Seobok’s innocent queries.
“I can’t tell if I want to live or I’m just scared to die.”
A Complex Mixture of Innocence and Violence
Seobok is probably one of the most complicated titular leads written in the history of Korean movies. While we are introduced to this character, Seobok seems to have an otherworldly presence. You can truly understand Ki Heon’s interest because Seobok is intriguingly powerful yet innocent. His bone marrow produces IPS cells (dedifferentiating stem cells) which could be harnessed to cure major human diseases. As such he is a prized possession and that makes him the target of scientific groups who want to steal his technology for their own personal gains. Just like two sides of the same coin, Seobok’s innovative constitution harbors strong brain waves that could lead to mass destruction.
I really enjoyed watching this character’s journey of self discovery and restrain. Park Bo Gum’s refreshing portrayal of this role will leave you surprised as well as enchanted. While Gong Yoo focuses on playing the older ex-agent who is forever on guard, Bo Gum plays the rather innocent yet curious human clone. His first journey into the outer world draws him out of his shell and he intends to explore this new atmosphere, before he is returned to his gilded cage. Seobok’s complex relationship with his biological mother, Im Se Eun is another chink in his armor that stir his emotions to highly volatile levels. Bo Gum manages to play the two contrasts to this titular role quite convincingly- one where he questions everything and leaves you wondering about human inadequacies and secondly when he shockingly displays his destructive telekinetic powers.
The Barely Existent Bromance
This movie was supposed to draw its strength from the slowly developing relationship between the two main leads, while they are on the run from the nefarious identities trying to usurp Seobok’s innovative technology. For most parts, there is significant development as these two variant men try to understand each other as they fight against time and tide. While the first half focuses on Ki Heon’s obsessive need to safeguard Seobok for the continuation of his own clinical trial, the young man’s insistent questions turn his self-centered world upside down. He is left speechless whenever Seobok raises questions related to human tendencies and their base nature. As they continue on their journey, the young man burrows his way into Ki Heon’s heart with his innocence and ability to question the obvious. Their conversations are the most interesting parts of this movie as they get to understand the trials and tribulations, they both face on an individual level.
The tactile shift in their relationship further cements their bond, as they slowly begin to trust each other with their secrets and implicit truths. While Ki Heon suffers from massive guilt related to the death of his colleague, Seobok wants to understand his life’s true purpose. So when Seobok requests Ki Heon to drive him to a church in Ulsan, Ki Heon acquiesces. Seobok believes his mother recreated him in an attempt to get over her dead husband and son. Being reborn as the same identity is rather difficult and Seobok seems to have major distrust on his Mother’s affections. It is entirely painful yet brutally realistic.
“Do you think dying…is really like sleeping?”
“Then how come people aren’t afraid to fall asleep? It’s like dying for a while.”
“Because they will wake up the next day.”
“I wanted to become something…something important to someone.”
Ki Heon’s growing attachment becomes apparent when he loses his calm while observing the torturing experiments that Seobok has to endure. He finally understands that his desire to live has put Seobak’s life in danger and seeks redemption. As Seobok accepts his feelings in the backdrop of a violent warfare, Ki Heon is left stunned by the revelation. This transient phase marks the tragic ending of this film which will leave you devastated. The thoughts that plagued my mind, while I watched Seobok’s self-destruction and Ki Heon’s righteous act were-
Why did they have this kind of ending?
Didn’t they deserve a happily ever after? And then I realised, that they couldn’t…
Because he is Seobok!
There were several unsatisfactory moments sprinkled throughout this sci-fi rollercoaster that mar the true significance of this philosophical journey. Although both Seobok and Ki Heon’s evolving relationship takes center stage, most of their conversations seemed rushed or incomplete. It would have been better if they had allotted more screentime to the rapid progression of their relationship which seems disconcerting. Gong Yoo and Park Bo Gum try their level best to bring the detailed train back onto the track, but there is only so much they can. This film leaves us with several unanswered questions, as the movie loses its focus on the travesties of immortality and the possible implications of genome cloning. Despite the serious challenges that strive to undermine the script, Gong Yoo and Park Bo Gum’s earnest efforts manage to salvage the situation.
A highly anticipated movie that falls short of the expectations, while delivering a soul stirring bromance that borders on painful separation!
Rating- 3 out of 5